After being paid their wages and celebrating the Tigres victory over Santos Laguna a group of Zeta "sicarios" were captured Friday morning past midnight in the municipality of Hidalgo, located on the northern fringes of the Monterrey metropolitan area.
A total of eighteen men were captured, and one killed, during the joint federal and state operation in Hidalgo, which stradles federal highway 53 on its way to Monclova in northern Coahuila.
According to authorities the head of the Hidalgo plaza, who was only identified by his alias of "el Chicho", had called a gathering of his gunmen at a bar in Hidalgo for payroll and to watch the first match of the Tigres vs Santos Laguna championship futbol series.
Also captured in the operation was a regional Zeta cell coordinator/paymaster, "jefe de estacas", that was also identified only by his alias, "El Sapo".
El Chicho and his gang also controlled the neighboring municipalities of Mina, Absolo and El Carmen.
Hidalgo and El Carmen are two of Nuevo Leon's municipalities that no longer have a standing municipal police force.
Up to 19 of Nuevo Leon's municipalities, especially in rural areas of the state, have had their police forces disappear after federally mandated background checks and anti drug investigations led to the termination or imprisonment of most or all of their officers. Other officers in undermanned police forces have fled or no longer patrol their jurisdictions due to threats of violence.
The operation in Hidalgo unfolded after a Mexican Army patrol observed a group of heavily armed men outside of a bar on Niño Heroes street. The authorities had apparently gone unspotted and were able to surprise the criminals, who surrendered after a brief firefight in which one of the gunmen was killed.
Weapons, grenades, drugs, cell phones and radios were also seized but an exact number was not given.
Earlier in the week a network of "narcomenudistas", or retail drug dealers, was taken down in the municipality of Juarez, a longtime Zeta stronghold located in Monterrey's eastern metropolitan area.
Local retail drug sales are one of several significant sources of money for Los Zetas and the loss of a retail network often results in a short term revenue shortfall in smaller plazas. Narcomenudistas are also prime targets for rival gangster attacks as seen by Los Zetas and Gulf cartel gunmen frequently killing each other's pushers.
According to Sedena, Mexico's Defense Ministry, the drug dealing network was broken up with the arrests of 18 persons, including 2 minors, in separate arrests this past Tuesday. All the suspects admitted to working for Los Zetas.
In the newspaper "El Norte's" coverage of the arrests it was noted that several of the suspects had previous arrest records for the same crime and it was not known how they had obtained their freedom.